Distance: 10 miles
Conditions: 90% chance of men crying like boys.
Today was the day. The be-all and end-all. The big kahuna. Everything came down to this. Every pedal stroke, every heft in our lungs, every drop of sweat, every ache, every pain, every tear - it all came down to this. It's funny because deep down no one even wanted it.
I woke up and rolled up my air mattress thinking, "Boy am I not going to miss this." I continued to nostalgically get my things together as I looked around at the guys in the room with me. We were noticeably not the same men as we were the day that we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone had cleaned their bikes, taken water bottle cages off, and prepped their new jerseys for arrival. Busting everything out at once made us feel pretty cool.
It was an overcast day again. Slight winds hit my face as I broke open the doors of lodging. I regretted taking every step as I didn't want it to end. The team gathered in the parking lot to circle up for the last time of the summer. Holding the hands of the guys next to me for prayer put a lump in my throat. We kept our congratulations to a minimum. It was sort of everyone's way of prolonging the goodbyes. 10 miles was a piece of cake, so we did it together.
Michael, Derek, and I rode together. We started together and wanted to end that way. The next 10 miles were the strangest I've ever ridden. For the first five miles, no one said a thing. Not a single warning call for a stick in the road, not a single joke nor random question. We were truly soaking in our final moments together. Eventually we caught up to the inevitable peloton that was going at a whopping 5 mph. When we did, spirits picked up and everyone started cracking jokes left and right. Every inside joke that had already been run into the ground was instantaneously fair game and hilarious. We rode as one peloton until stage up, where we met up with Trans and South routes.
North didn't have much interest in socializing, so a lot of us walked to Starbucks for coffee since we had about an hour of downtime. By the time everyone had their coffee and had eaten their pastries, we headed back to stage up. It came time to form the double pace line and everyone reluctantly shuffled their feet over to the line. Earlier Jeff had asked me to ride in with him, and I couldn't have been more honored to ride next to anyone up to the Capitol. We departed, riding through the city streets of D.C. We could see the Washington Monument to our right slowly pass by. The Capitol wasn't in sight though. We kept pedaling until we came to our first turn. We rounded the corner, and there it sat. Peering down at us like it had been waiting for years was the Capitol. Suddenly, you could hear a pin drop. I can't describe the feeling very well, but all I can say is that it's like the ultimate, "Woah.." moment. That's when it hit everyone - we've made it.
We rode up to the lawn and dismounted. Friends, family, crying mothers, and the like were all there screaming and waving. It was surreal. I had held in my tears until I reached the foot of the lawn and looked up at the top of the Capitol. I actually just did what I think I did. Then I couldn't help it anymore. Tears were streaming down my face. I kept my face turned though, and went to put my bike down. Chad Coltrane spoke and the team did one last cheer together. It was all a blur though. Before I knew it, I was lifting my bike above my head in celebration of the summer of a lifetime. There will never be a greater feeling than that. In that moment I could see the faces of the people that had touched my life throughout the Journey - all smiling as they had my back. Every memory was flashing before my eyes. The tears that had previously subsided were back for round 2.
We finally said our goodbyes and headed over to the hotel. Later that night we had our closing ceremonies and did one last Every Time We Touch dance to close them out. When the festivities were over, a handful of us walked to the Lincoln Memorial and just sat on the steps looking back at the Capitol building. The question, "What's it going to feel like when you come back to the Capitol lawn in 50 years?" was posed. No one knew the true answer. All anyone could mutter is, "Awesome." We walked back together and said our final goodbyes. It was tough, but we all knew it wasn't goodbye.
I guess that's the story of JOH. Your job is to touch lives. Maybe not change them, but definitely to touch them. You touch them then you move on to do it again. The reward is something intangible. Those who have done it can never explain, and those who haven't will never understand.
People often thank us for "sacrificing" our summers for a great cause. The truth is, though, that we don't sacrifice much at all. Maybe some sweat, and a little bit of comfort, but nothing else. I'd take a hard floor with my teammates over the comfort of a plush bed any night. I'd take the heat and sweat over the simplicity of laziness. I'd take cold showers, mediocre cleanliness and running around half-naked over a a great night's sleep after a warm shower and a round of video games. This Journey will stick with me for the rest of my life. I'll never forget the people and places I've seen.
The only disability in life is a bad attitude.